Cloud Storage of Personal Data: Your Business’ Data Protection Obligations

Last updated on December 27, 2018

Featured image for the "Cloud Storage of Personal Data: Your Business' Data Protection Obligations" article. It features connected servers in front of an image of a cloud.

There are many benefits of cloud storage, including the ease of accessibility to data and the ability to remotely back data up. It is no wonder that businesses are increasingly looking to store their data in the cloud.

And now, you’re considering doing the same for your business.

As many cloud service providers have their servers located outside of Singapore, storing your business’ data in the cloud will likely require you to transfer your data overseas. However you have to be sure that the transfer complies with Singapore’s data protection laws under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

Is the Data I Want to Transfer Subject to the PDPA’s Protections?

The PDPA protects “personal data”, which includes data about individuals who can be identified from such data (whether such data is true or not).

Therefore so long as the data you possess about individuals allows them to be identified from such data, that data will be considered “personal data” that is subject to the PDPA’s protections. Examples of such data include the NRIC numbers and/or addresses of your customers.

Restrictions on the Transfer of Personal Data Overseas

After determining which of your data constitutes “personal data”, you will then have to know the restrictions to be complied with when transferring personal data overseas.

Before transferring personal data overseas, you have to:

  1. Take appropriate steps to ensure that you will handle the transferred data in accordance with the PDPA’s data protection laws, while this data is still in your possession/under your control; and
  2. Take appropriate steps to check whether, and ensure that, the recipient of the personal data is bound by legally enforceable obligations to provide the transferred data a standard of protection that is at least comparable to the PDPA’s protections.

Requirement to take appropriate steps to ensure that you will handle the transferred data in accordance with the PDPA’s data protection laws, while this data is still in your possession/under your control

You will be taken to have fulfilled this requirement if:

  • The individual, who is the subject of the personal data, consents to the transfer of personal data;
  • The transfer is necessary for you to perform a contract with the individual, or to do anything the individual asked you to do with the view of entering into a contract with him;
  • The transfer is necessary to conclude or perform a contract which the individual asked you to enter with a third-party;
  • The transfer is necessary to conclude or perform a contract you entered with a third-party, if a reasonable person would consider the contract to be in the individual’s interest; or
  • The personal data is publicly available in Singapore.

Before the individual gives his consent, you are required to give him a reasonable summary in writing of the extent to which his personal data will be protected to a standard comparable to the protection under the PDPA when it is transferred.

Requiring the individual to consent to the transfer as a condition of providing him a product or service does not constitute consent, unless the transfer is reasonably necessary to provide him with such product or service.

Obtaining the individual’s consent through deceptive or misleading practices, such as providing false information about the transfer, also does not count.

Also, even if the individual has given his consent to the transfer, he may still withdraw his consent later on.

Read our other article for more information on the consent requirements under the PDPA.

Requirement to take appropriate steps to check whether, and ensure that, the recipient of the personal data is bound by legally enforceable obligations to provide the transferred data a standard of protection that is at least comparable to the PDPA’s protections

“Legally enforceable obligations” include obligations imposed on the recipient of personal data under:

  • Any law;
  • Any contract that specifies the countries/territories that the personal data may be transferred to, and requires the recipient of the transferred personal data to provide a standard of protection for the data at least comparable to the protection under the PDPA;
  • Any binding corporate rules; or
  • Any other legally binding instrument.

If you are using a contract to impose such obligations on the recipient, the clauses in the contract should minimally include the protections for personal data:

  • Purpose of collection, use and disclosure by recipient
  • Accuracy
  • Protection
  • Retention limitation
  • Policies on personal data protection
  • Access
  • Correction

More information on these protections may be found in the PDPA.

The Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers and enforces the PDPA, has provided the following example on how a business may comply with the PDPA when intending to transfer personal data overseas:

“Cedric is a client of Organisation GHI. Organisation GHI notifies Cedric in writing that it is adopting a cloud-based solution to store and analyse its client data, which includes personal data such as clients’ identification details, address, contact details and income range, and asks for Cedric’s consent to move his client data to the cloud-based solution. Organisation GHI also provides Cedric with a written summary of the extent to which Cedric’s personal data will be protected to a standard comparable to that under the PDPA, in the countries and territories that it will be transferred to. Should Cedric provide his consent, Organisation GHI would be able to transfer his personal data in compliance with the Transfer Limitation Obligation.”

Cloud Security Standards

You may also be interested to know that Singapore’s Information Technology Standards Committee has developed a cloud security standard which certifies cloud-service providers based on the levels of security service they provide to clients.

Known as the Multi-Tier Cloud Security Singapore Standard 584, this standard will allow businesses to make informed decisions on whether a particular cloud service provider provides sufficient protection for their data in the cloud.

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